The fear of incurring management’s wrath for reporting wrongdoing at work can pervade any place of work. When that place of work is a hospital, medical office, or another health care entity, however, fear of speaking out can cause suffering or cost lives.
That’s essentially a boiled-down interpretation of what was on West Virginia lawmakers’ minds when they passed the Patient Safety Act of 2001. Twenty years later, the legislation still protects health care workers from discrimination or retaliation when they report wrongdoing or waste that can impact patient care.
While whistleblowing is federally protected in many cases, the Patient Safety Act explicitly protects healthcare workers advocating on behalf of their patients from retaliatory behavior.
As defined by the legislation, a health care worker includes the following kinds of people and others like them:
- Physician’s assistants
- Physical therapists
- Nurse’s Aides
- Laboratory Technicians
Essentially, anyone who’s responsible for providing a patient’s direct care is protected from retaliation and discrimination by law. Importantly, however, the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit begins the moment a violation occurs – employees have only two years from that date to sue.
How the Patient Safety Act Protects Healthcare Workers
The Patient Safety Act explicitly protects health care workers from discrimination and retaliation in a few key ways. Above all, workers are protected when they report unlawful wrongdoing or waste to either their employer or a regulatory body when they believe such activity would adversely impact their patients. Likewise, if a health care worker has initiated or participated in an internal investigation or one from a government agency, they are also protected by law.
When workers report complaints to government agencies about a patient’s quality of care or the health care entity’s services and conditions, their anonymity is also protected by their consent. The only exception to this, perhaps, is if what they’ve reported represents an imminent threat to someone’s health, public safety, or “indicates an imminent violation of criminal law.”
If a health care worker is successful in suing their employer for discriminating or retaliating against them for speaking up for a patient, substantial damages could be levied against the employer.
At the judge’s discretion, a plaintiff can be awarded reinstatement (if they were terminated from work), back wage payment, restoration of fringe benefits, as well as actual damages to be paid by their employer. Additionally, a judge may order the defendant to pay all court and attorney fees.
Bailess Smith PLLC: Fighting for Health Care Workers’ Rights
When health care workers face harassment, discrimination, or any kind of retaliation for speaking up on behalf of a patient’s well-being, Bailess Smith PLLC can be there to protect their rights. Our firm has more than four decades of combined experience in handling employment law violation claims and winning results that mattered to our past clients.
Contact our firm online or call (304) 553-0337 to reach out to a Bailess Smith PLLC attorney who can help you assert your rights.